The mayor of Portland ordered the city’s police to stop using tear gas for crowd control during protests that have rocked the city for more than 100 days in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said Thursday the ban is effective immediately and will last until further notice. Wheeler, who was tear gassed by federal officers along with a large group of protesters in July, also serves as the city’s police commissioner.
“During the last hundred days, Portland, Multnomah County and State Police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety,” Wheeler said in a statement. “We need something different. We need it now.”
CS gas is a common form of tear gas that can immediately cause irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth, lungs and skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prolonged exposure to the gas, which is forbidden to use in war but legal for use on civilians, can cause severe health effects such as blindness, glaucoma, respiratory failure and death due to severe chemical burns to the throat and lungs, according to the CDC.
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Wheeler’s announcement comes after months of criticism leveled at police across the country for using tear gas to control crowds at Black Lives Matter protests.
In June, Wheeler ordered police to curb the use of tear gas shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union Oregon sent a letter to Oregon’s mayors, city managers and police chiefs urging them to ban the use of tear gas and flash bang devices.
At the time, Wheeler said he directed Portland Police Chief Jami Resch to only use tear gas if “there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal.”
Protesters in Oregon’s largest city have sometimes clashed with law enforcement during the nightly demonstrations. The protesters want city officials to slash the police budget and reallocate that money to Black residents and businesses. Some are also demanding Wheeler’s resignation.
Some have broken windows, set small fires, punctured police car tires, and pelted officers with rocks and frozen water bottles. Wheeler recently moved after protesters targeted his apartment building, breaking windows and setting a fire in a business on the ground floor.
Wheeler said he still expects police to arrest anyone engaged in criminal activity and for the criminal justice system to “hold those individuals accountable.”
“It’s time for everyone to reduce the violence in our community,” he said Thursday. “Arson, vandalism, and violence are not going to drive change in this community.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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